Having to kill off penalties is inevitable. Even Lady Byng winners get penalties every once in a while, especially in today’s NHL where every little hook and trip is called. Having a good penalty kill unit can make a huge difference. In 2014-15, the three worst penalty killing teams were the Buffalo Sabres (75.1 PK%), the Arizona Coyotes (76.7 PK%), and the Edmonton Oilers (76.7 PK%).
Is it a coincidence those teams drafted 2nd, 4rd and 1st, respectively? Last season, teams were shorthanded an average of 250 times, or just over 3 times per game. For the Sabres, it meant over the course of 10 games, they were going to allow at least 7 powerplay goals. For the Minnesota Wild, last year’s most effective penalty killing team (86.3), over that same time span, they would only allow 4 powerplay goals.
So having a few players that are dependable defensively and who can log some long shifts while facing a barrage of shots, can make a big a difference for a team. Usually a coach will have a few guys he feels he can trust in shorthanded situations, so a team can get back to even strength unscathed. There are a lot of different variables that can make a player a good penalty killer, so there this list might depend on what a person values most when it comes to a penalty killer, but I’m putting an emphasize on players who kill a lot of penalties, and have help their team be the most effective at it.
Of course, the old saying that a team’s best penalty killer is their goaltender, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll be concentrating on the skaters.
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15 Peter Holland
The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have a great penalty kill last year. The Leafs killing percentage last season was below the NHL average, as they managed to kill off 80.5% of their shorthanded attempts and they were the league’s 10th most penalized team. Holland only appeared in 62 games, and during that time he played a total of 105:13 minutes shorthanded. He only had one shorthanded goal but he led the league with 18 takeaways.
14 Luke Glendening
In just his first full season with the Detroit Red Wings, Glendening played a major role on the penalty kill. He was second in the league in total minutes played while down a man, playing in over 276 minutes, averaging more than three minutes per game. He took the majority of the faceoffs for the Wings, taking 259 of them, winning 107. He was credited with 11 takeaways and blocked 32 shots. He did manage to take 12 shots of his own, but was not able to score any points while shorthanded.
13 Jamie Benn
The Dallas Stars were shorthanded 254 times in 2014-15, almost right at the league average, which is good because they were below average penalty killers, with a kill rate of 80.7%. Being shorthanded didn’t stop Benn from thinking about offense though. He had two shorthanded goals and was tied with four other players with 5 shorthanded points, good enough for second in the league. While down a man, he also had nine takeaways and he didn’t have any giveaways, so if he got his stick on the puck, it was leaving the zone. He played just over 121 minutes shorthanded last season.
12 Andy Greene
The New Jersey Devils penalty killing was also below average last year, managing to kill of 80.6% of their 268 shorthanded instances; the 7th most in the NHL. Greene spent more time playing with a man down than anyone else in the league, and by a very wide margin. In total, Greene spent 326 minutes and 31 seconds on the ice while the Devils were killing penalties. The next closest person played less than 277 minutes, a difference of over 40 minutes; two periods. On average, Greene played almost 4 minutes per night shorthanded, and during that time, he blocked 48 shots, the third most in the league.
11 Andrew Cogliano
The Anaheim Ducks were a physical team last season, often hitting at every chance they had in order to grind down the other team. Typically, throwing a lot of hits usually results in more penalties though, because there’s just a chance for something to go wrong; an arm comes up, or it’s happens late, and the Ducks were one of the most penalized teams in the league last year.
Cogliano though, was still dangerous offensively. While shorthanded, he led the NHL in shot attempts, with 21, and those shots resulted in three shorthanded goals. He also had six takeaways while playing over 136 minutes while playing a man down, helping his team kill off 81% of their penalties.
10 Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli didn’t see a whole lot of time on the penalty kill last year, but he still managed to put up some pretty great number while shorthanded. He only averaged 1:00 of shorthanded ice time per game; playing for a total of 75:31, but during that time, Toffoli led the NHL in shorthanded goals last season, with five. He also added an assist to give him six points, which also led the league. With numbers like that, you have to imagine he’ll get an increased workload in 2015-16. The Los Angeles Kings were just below average when it came to killing penalties, managing to kill off 80.9% of their 236 shorthanded instances.
9 Blake Wheeler
The big winger has really made a name for himself since the Jets moved to Winnipeg. Since the move, the fifth overall pick has averaged more than 0.75 points per game. Last season, Wheeler was tied for second in the league with four shorthanded goals while killing 137:03 worth of penalties. He also added an assist to give him five shorthanded points. Defensively, he blocked 14 shots helping the Jets kill off and above average 81.8% of their penalties. He also added 11 hits, which was pretty high among forwards.
8 Drew Miller
Over the last five years or so, Miller emerged as a solid checking forward for the Detroit Red Wings and that has translated into becoming one of their primary penalty killing forwards, along with Luke Glendening. Over a third of his playing time was while shorthanded, playing an average of 3:08 with a man down, totaling over 257 minutes. Miller led the league amongst forwards with 42 blocked shots and added eight takeaways. His play helped the Wings kill off 80.9% of their penalties.
7 Jim Slater
The Winnipeg Jets spent more time on the penalty kill than any other team in the league last year, totaling 521:46 played with a man down. That was almost 10 minutes more than the Blue Jackets who were second. Slater was tasked with taking a lot of the faceoffs in the defensive zone for the Jets because of that. In total he took 269 faceoffs and won 154 of them, more than any other player in the league. Slater played over 185 minutes while shorthanded and during that time, he also blocked 28 shots. Winning all those draws helped the Jets kill off 81.8% of their penalty kills, finishing in the upper half of the league.
6 Rob Scuderi
The defensive defenseman was instrumental in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the best penalty kills in the league. While the Pens are more known for their offensive prowess, they did manage to kill 84.8% of their penalties, behind only the Canucks and Wild. For his part, Scuderi played almost 260 minutes shorthanded, playing more than three minutes per night. During that time, he blocked 28 shots and even added an assist for one shorthanded point. Last season, the Penguins were the third most penalized team in the league, so having a stalwart defenseman like Scuderi helps alleviate taking so many penalties.
5 John Carlson
While he might be known more for his puck moving ability, Carlson has become a very important piece of the Washington Capital penalty kill. Although the Caps were slightly below league average, killing 80.9% of their penalties, but none of that lays at Carlson’s feet. Carlson played a total of 242:34 while shorthanded last season, averaging just under three minutes per game. During that time, he blocked a league leading 51 shots. He was also one of only 16 defensemen to score a shorthanded goal. He also had more shots on goal than any other defensemen, getting the puck on net nine times.
4 Max Pacioretty
The newest captain in Montreal Canadien’s history has emerged as one of the league’s top all-around players. He just seems to perform in every zone and in every facet of the game. The Canadiens killed off 83.7% of their penalties last season, which was the seventh best rate in the NHL. Pacrioretty helped kill off over 125 minutes of the Habs shorthanded time. During that time, he was responsible defensively, credited with seven takeaways, and he turned those into offensive chances. He was tied for second in the league with 5 shorthanded points and had 3 SH goals on 17 shots.
3 Rick Nash
As a former Maurice Richard Trophy winner as the league’s best goal-scorer, you might not think of Nash when it comes to killing penalties. The New York Rangers like to use Nash in every situation though and he has excelled. He finished the season with 4 shorthanded goals and 5 points, tying him for second in the league in both categories. He was also second in the league in shorthanded takeaways, credited with 15. He only averaged 1:20 per game killing penalties, so the Rangers could likely increase his playing time while down a man. The Rangers had the sixth best penalty kill last season, as they managed to kill penalties off at a rate of 84.3%.
2 Brandon Sutter
He was part of the third best penalty killing team last season, where he averaged more than two minutes of penalty killing time. Sutter helped the Pens kill off 84.8% of their penalties, but this season moves to the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, Sutter was tied for second in the league with 4 shorthanded goals. He also blocked 18 shots, had 9 takeaways and also won 104 faceoffs while playing over 184 shorthanded minutes. The move to the Canucks shouldn’t affect his numbers much, since they were actually the second best penalty killing team last season, so the acquisition of Sutter should only help them.
1 Ryan O’Reilly
O’Reilly is going have a lot more responsibilities this coming season after moving to the Buffalo Sabres, but he was a key contributor to the Avalanche’s fifth ranked penalty kill last season, operating at an 84.6% efficiency. He was tied for second in takeaways with 15 and was one of the best at winning faceoffs last season. He won 105 draws, helping his team gain possession of the puck consistently. He played in over 147 minutes of shorthanded time, and added a shorthanded goal and an assist. You can also count on O’Reilly being available to kill penalties, since he’s only accumulated 14 PIM over the last two seasons. He’ll be counted on to help last year’s worst penalty killing team.
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